December 27, 2022

《Smart Brevity》书摘

Operation manual for attention war.

Introduction: The Fog of Words

Never in the history of humanity have we vomited more words in more places with more velocity.

We’re more scattered, impatient, inundated. We scroll. We skim. We click. We share.

It takes most people more than 20 minutes to snap back into focus after a distraction.

Think about it: We know everyone has less time, more options, endless distractions—yet we keep coughing up the same number of words. Or more.

Mark Twain, writing to a friend in 1871, confessed, “I didn’t have time to write you a short letter, so I wrote you a long one.”

The result is billions of wasted words: • Roughly one-third of work emails that require attention go unread. • Most words of most news stories are not seen. • Most chapters of most books go untouched. The problem is most acute in just about every workplace in America. It does not matter if you work at Apple, a small business or a new start-up, it has never been harder to get people focused on what matters most.

Stewart Butterfield, the CEO of Slack, told us that, in a hypothetical 10,000-employee company that spends $1 billion on payroll, 50 to 60 percent of the average employee’s time is spent on communication of some sort. Yet no one provides the tools and training to do this well.

All of us confront an epic challenge: How do you get anyone to pay attention to anything that matters in this mess? OUR ANSWER: Adapt to how people consume content—not how you wish they did or they did once upon a time. Then, change how you communicate, immediately. You can do this quickly by adopting Smart Brevity.

1: Short, Not Shallow

A lunch-spattered piece of paper hangs on the wall of the Arlington, Virginia, newsroom of our start-up, Axios. It reads: “Brevity is confidence. Length is fear.”

If you’re anyone trying to communicate important information to others—it doesn’t matter if you’re a manager, a teacher or a neighborhood leader—this book reveals our secrets for being heard.

Don’t omit important facts or nuance, oversimplify or dumb down. “Short, not shallow,” is what we tell our reporters.

2: Smart Brevity, Explained

• Most people think about what they want to say and then pollute and dilute it with mushy words, long caveats and pointless asides.

People want to know something new, revelatory, exciting. And they want you to put it in context and explain “Why it matters.” Then, with a visual or verbal cue, they decide whether to “Go deeper” into the conversation.

If you see everything, you remember nothing.

3:The Road to Smart Brevity

Then along came the web. Holy shit—what a wake-up call. The web offered something newspapers never did: actual data on who was reading what. Data has a funny way of humbling you. It left us naked, fully exposed to the truth: Almost no one was reading most of our words. We filled holes in newspapers, but they were black holes, sucking in our time and energy. Yours too.

“I don’t care what the fifth word of the story is,” he said, “as long as the first four are ‘Reid Won’t Seek Reelection.’”

The idea was that the busy, high-information Bloomberg readers didn’t need extraneous stuff about where Reid grew up, what bills he championed or his job as a Capitol Police officer during law school. They knew all that already, probably from Reid himself. They just needed to know he was retiring—and whether we knew who was going to replace him (Schumer), which could be the sixth word.

We committed to stop wasting people’s time.

4: Audience First

We tend to think too much about what we want to say versus what others need to hear.

“All you can do is the next right thing.” Think about how simple, direct and memorable that one line is. He could have prattled on, quoting Luke, waxing poetic in Hebrew or dropping C. S. Lewis wisdom, and he could’ve sharpened it even more: “Do the next right thing.”

This is the opposite of TV, where networks often try to reach the broadest possible audience by targeting the least-informed viewer. This results in dumbing down content and larding it up with general context.

Don’t do this. Instead imagine a smart, busy, curious person at the center of the large circle you’re targeting. A real person with a real job and real needs. This person should be someone interested in your topic and likely to engage. • What you present will help clarify what they already know and what might be new, illuminating, exciting. It will also shape your voice and data points and how you explain to them why your presentation matters. • Your message will echo out as readers see and appreciate the respect shown for their time and intelligence.

Don’t be fancy—be effective.

We tend to communicate selfishly. When we sit down to write, or stand to speak, or plug in to record, we think about what we want to say, not what others would and should want to hear.

Who wants to wade through that mess to realize the point?

“We hide our insecurity in additional words,”

She explains that people “waste time couching it, framing it, conceptualizing it—rather than just saying what we mean.” Her advice can make you a better communicator or leader, regardless of title or industry. “People want direct, clear, honest communication. If you try to spin or bullshit me, I’m out.”

When we’re sitting face-to-face, we have social cues that keep us from being boring. We subconsciously think: I want you to like me. So we don’t repeat ourselves. We don’t use fancy words. We don’t tell people things they already know. We don’t explain the obvious. • And yet when we sit down at a keyboard, we do all those things.

5: Be Worthy

Professor Yaros gave us an early peek at some of his latest research on what he calls the “digital engagement model,” which aims to predict how and why users engage with different types of information. • The Smart Brevity conclusion: They don’t.

6: Grab Me!

The dopamine blast of a great idea or word buys you a few more seconds of someone’s time. Every word is a battle for additional time and attention.

7: ONE Big Thing

One of the media’s dirty little secrets is that most journalists suck at writing tight ledes. So don’t feel bad: They’re paid to do it, and they struggle.

8: Why It Matters

Axios is Greek for “worthy,” as in worthy of your time, trust and attention.

A few more of our favorite Axioms: • The big picture • What’s next • What we’re watching • What we’re hearing • Between the lines • The backstory • Catch up quick • Zoom in • Zoom out

10: The Right Words

Mark Twain famously said “the difference between the almost right word and the right word . . . ’tis the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”

12: Mike’s Playbook

In 2010, The New York Times Magazine wrote a cover story about Mike, “The Man the White House Wakes Up To.”

14: Be Heard @Work

Axios HQ users found that weekly updates by each department, project or team done with a predictable template and cadence helps: • Align people around values, strategies, a common culture. • Articulate diversity, inclusion, and equity plans and progress. • Explain in order of importance the most pressing tasks to be done. • Update others on progress or changes and keep clients fully looped in. • Maintain a living library of the essential strategic decisions and thinking.

17: Smart Brevity Your Speeches

OK, now back to Earth: You are not Steve Jobs. And it’s doubtful you are inventing a device that will forever change humanity. Most likely, you are simply trying to survive the stage without making an ass of yourself.

21: How to Run a Company on Smart Brevity

Most people leaving their jobs point to feelings of disconnectedness and fading engagement,

Just look at politics. Power no longer flows from position, seniority or money. It flows to those who master—or game—modern, short-burst communications on cable news or Twitter.

Roy had the genius idea of having every executive do the same thing for their team—and share it with their fellow executives. Now every week, every executive knows every big thing in order of importance. We eliminated canned updates in meetings, and no one says: “I didn’t know we’re doing that!”

But the biggest beneficiaries are the employees. We all hate to be out of the loop, baffled about direction, confused about purpose.

People aren’t suckers—they can sniff out a lawyered line or constipated corporate nonsense. Quit doing this ASAP.

22: Communicate Inclusively

Here is another area where Smart Brevity is your friend: We often can avoid pitfalls by simply omitting irrelevant information.